Previously only parents of children under 17 (or 18 if the child is disabled) or carers for dependant adults had the right to request flexible working arrangements from their employers. With new UK legislation the same entitlement now applies to all employees, providing they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks 1, 2.
However, it’s important to be aware that, just as before for parents and carers, the new legislation only enables employees to make a request. It does not require employers to grant it, though they must have a sound business reason for rejecting a request.
How might enabling staff to work flexibly benefit employers and businesses?
Enabling employees to work flexibly can offer great advantages to businesses. From a practical point of view, flexible arrangements such as remote working can decrease overheads and the need for office space, positively affecting operating costs.
Perhaps more importantly, flexible arrangements can help retain valuable staff (who otherwise might be forced to leave for practical reasons) as well as attracting a wider talent pool of people who may not have considered working for the company otherwise.
Flexible working patterns can also enable businesses to operate during extended working hours, with staff available to help clients and consumers outside conventional ‘9 to 5’ working hours.
Similarly, offering more choice about the times of day that staff are required to work can enable employers to tap into the most productive time of their employees’ day. In the case of people working across different time zones, flexibility can also enable employers to recover work-related loss of sleep, thus helping to preserve employee wellbeing.
Employers offering flexible working arrangements are likely to see an increase in productivity, engagement and commitment from employees who are given more control of their working life and style of working 3.
Ultimately, accommodating for flexible working needs should make for a happier workforce and, in turn, make for a more productive workplace.
Are there any potential disadvantages for the health and wellbeing of workers?
Managers need to be mindful that flexible working could mean their staff do not stop working. Removing the need to physically leave the workplace at the end of the day/shift can tempt workers into working overtime, which managers may not be aware of when their staff are working remotely. Flexible working may also increase presenteeism (working when unwell but not at full capacity), with employees who are working from home carrying on working when they could, reasonably, have taken a day’s sick leave. Managers should therefore monitor the time-keeping of employees who are working remotely and ensure that suitable boundaries between working time and non-working time are put in place.
Working from home may mean that employees miss out on important social benefits that come from working and interacting with colleagues. It is therefore important to invite them to company events and briefings and, if practicable, make provision to include them via remote media if it is not possible for them to attend. There is also a possibility that workers based remotely may feel more isolated in general and may communicate less with their managers. As a consequence managers may be less able to identify potential issues developing with employees’ health, such as mental illness. This can be more challenging for managers who might already struggle with addressing issues of wellbeing with other members of their team.
How popular is it?
A lot of employers are starting to offer flexible working as a perk, but many are happier sticking with the traditional nine-to-five office hours approach. A Powwownow survey found that 47 per cent of employees don’t have a flexible working structure encouraged at their workplace.
However, any employee that has worked for the same employer for 26 weeks is eligible to request a flexible working structure – and employers are obliged to deal with applications for flexible working in a reasonable manner.